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    CHANAK   7,911
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A Stress-Less Life

Thursday, December 01, 2011

My employer, along with our insurance provider, gives access to a great program called "Take Charge, Live Well." One of the features of this program is an annual health-risk assessment which I make sure I do when it's offered. It asks a bunch of questions regarding lifestyle and physical health (including cholesterol levels, weight, sleep habits, average diet, and so on) and then not only paints a picture of your current health but also suggests ways in which it can be changed.

For me, weight has always been the focus, but this year stress jumped to the front burner as a concern. Long work hours, a long commute, volunteer work, and single parenting had me so stressed that I dreaded waking up. I just wanted to sleep the days away and give up some responsibility. I wasn't eating right, relying on fast food several nights a week in order to get my daughter fed, bathed, and in bed no more than two hours after arriving home. I rarely shopped for groceries, tending to run in and grab what I needed for a couple days, and I obviously didn't plan my meals. My house was a wreck; after my long days I just wanted to sit and relax in the evening...so, obviously, exercise didn't happen, either. And because I needed my alone time to decompress, I'd stay up far too late in order to enjoy some peace and quiet before my day started all over again. I also have a boyfriend and wanted to make time for him, so weekends were typically spent with him and his son as I tried desperately to inject some fun in my life.

After taking the health risk assessment I saw that something had to give. Over the course of the past 12 months my health went from a score of 76 (which is at the top of the good range) to the low 60s, almost poor. Stress was clearly at the root of all my health issues: poor diet, no exercise, poor sleep habits, dissatisfaction with my life. You name it, stress was causing it.

I bring this up because today SparkPeople is featuring a new calendar, 31 Days to Healthier Holidays. It focuses on healthy eating, rather than stress management, but it's still worthwhile to look at it and utilize it as a tool for stress relief. Here's the thing: stress is circular. Stress causes us to not eat well, to lose sleep, to become angry...and all of these things lead to more stress. They only way to combat it is to stop the cycle and, really, this can be done at any point on the circle. Change the stressor and you reduce the stress, which then changes other stressors. I'm getting a handle on my eating as one of my stress-reducers. My other tactic was to eliminate my volunteer work at my daughter's school. It pained me to walk away from that commitment but I realized that it was the primary reason I was miserable...not the work, but the commitment itself.

I've chosen to continue my work schedule as it stands, so four days per week I'll be at work for 9 hours. The fifth day - for my schedule that will be Friday - I'll work a half day, giving me time to do housework, meal planning, grocery shopping, and my other chores. This way my evenings can be spent relaxing without the stress of knowing that work at home is piling up.

I'm continuing to try to look at this process as a lifestyle change rather than a weight loss program. With luck, my weight will decrease as I change these other aspects of my life (stress is a known cause of weight gain, as well). But if I don't lose weight, or if it comes off slowly, I'll still have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm happy and well-balanced through and through.
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